No10 was today urged to expand the rollout of Covid vaccines to include all over-50s as soon as there are enough supplies to avoid bottlenecks as the country moves through the priority list.
NHS England’s vaccine drive moved into its second phase yesterday, with over-65s and at-risk adults now being invited to get jabs.
But people under that age threshold – including British reality show host Nadia Essex, 39, who has no health issues, and 56-year-old US singer, Courtney Love – have already been offered vaccines in some parts of the nation.
NHS bosses say local health teams can make their own way down the list of nine priority groups, so long as they have attempted to reach everyone in a group before moving on.
But areas that are further ahead in vaccinating their elderly populations are more quickly making their way through younger people, while willing people of the same age are left waiting longer in areas that are struggling more to reach older residents.
Critics suggest that opening up the scheme so anyone in a priority group can get a vaccine as soon as they want one could avoid low uptake in certain groups holding back others.
Dr Simon Clarke, a microbiologist at the University of Reading, said ‘it would make sense’ to roll out jabs to people in their 50s and 60s as soon as supplies allow.
Think-tanks said officials needed to be more ambitious about the speed and not get stuck on particulars, saying it was ‘false economy’ to slow down some groups or clinics to help others catch up.
There are signs the UK’s coronavirus vaccine roll-out may be slowing after fewer than 280,000 doses were administered yesterday
Ministers have pledged to dish out jabs to all 32million Britons in the top nine groups by April.
But they will have to start dishing out second doses within weeks, making it essential to keep up the pace and get as many first jabs done before that begins to eat into supplies.
At the current pace of 434,301 people per day, it will take until March 26 to give a first dose to 32million people.
But the speed has slowed over the past fortnight amid claims that the ‘rigid’ priority list was hampering delivery.
NHS England boss Sir Simon Stevens yesterday vowed to double the number of jabs being given in order for the Government to hit that target. It could see up to 1million doses dished out each day.
He cautioned that the national vaccination campaign consisted of ‘two sprints and a marathon, (and) we’ve just come to the end of the first sprint’.
Jo Whiley, 55, blasts jab rollout after she was offered one BEFORE her disabled sister who lives in a care home
Radio presenter Jo Whiley has blasted being offered a Covid vaccine before her disabled sister who lives in a care home – and who has now reportedly tested positive for coronavirus.
The ‘fit and healthy’ BBC Radio Two host, 55, says it is ‘mind boggling’ that she has been offered a jab before younger sister Frances – who has diabetes and complex learning difficulties.
And she she would give up her vaccine ‘in a heartbeat’ in favour of it going to those in a situation such as her younger sister.
Frances, 53, suffers from a rare genetic syndrome called Cri du Chat – a chromosomal condition that results in delayed development. She was moved into care in Northamptonshire in 2015 after her ‘challenging behaviour’ resulted in her needing specialist care.
Speaking to Radio 4’s Today Programme, which has since reported that Frances has tested positive for Covid, Ms Whiley said: ‘We’ve done everything we can to try and facilitate the vaccine getting to people who need it most.
‘She (Frances) is in group six but she also has diabetes quite bad diabetes, which should put her in group four.
‘I would have thought she should have received it, but she hasn’t. I just want to speak up for people like Frances, who have been overlooked, because this happens so often with people with learning difficulties, who haven’t got a voice.
‘I can’t tell you how frustrating it is and how horrendous it is. It’s the stuff of nightmares.
‘Then ironically I got a message to say I was due to have my vaccine, before my sister, who has learning disabilities and underlying health conditions, go figure.’
Ms Whiley, who thinks she has been offered the vaccine due to her status as a carer for her sister, added: ‘My mind is boggling, it really is, and I would give up my vaccine in a heartbeat for my sister and any of the residents in that care home.’
Ms Whiley is the latest of a string of celebrities to be offered the vaccine ahead of more vulnerable or elderly Brits, amid concerns the roll out has become a ‘postcode lottery’.
US singer Courtney Love yesterday got the injection today at an NHS clinic in Chelsea, West London. The 56-year-old — whose representatives say has an underlying health condition that makes her eligible — left Los Angeles and relocated to London in the autumn of 2019.
Nigella Lawson claimed her head was ‘in a spin’ at being offered the Covid vaccine on Sunday. The 61-year-old TV chef revealed she had been sent a text message on Valentine’s Day inviting her to book an appointment.
Meanwhile, Ruth Langsford, the 60-year-old This Morning presenter, said she was ‘so grateful’ to receive her first vaccine on Saturday, thanking everyone involved in an Instagram update.
And Gardeners’ World presenter Monty Don, 65, also praised the NHS after getting his first dose on the same day. It’s not clear whether any of the TV personalities have underlying conditions that would bump them up the queue.
British reality show host Nadia Essex, 39, who has no health issues, is thought to be the youngest celebrity to be offered a vaccine. She revealed she was ‘going for it’ last Thursday after asking her fans for their opinion.
Some over-60s have already began being given the jab in areas across the country, with areas of Manchester and London handing out doses to the next age bracket.
Wales began inviting over-50s, while Northern Ireland started offering appointments to over-65s in January.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon yesterday said 53 per cent of 65-69 year-olds have already received their first dose of vaccine.
The Adam Smith Institute think-tank urged areas of the country already ahead of the curve to open up the programme to over-50s now.
A spokesperson told MailOnline: ‘Each person jabbed represents a life that won’t be lost to this terrible disease.
‘We should be trying to ensure jabs reach as many people as possible as quickly as possible.
‘If some areas have steamed ahead they should to continue apace, opening up to the over-50s and other cohorts.
‘Areas that fall behind should be looking at best practice at home and abroad to increase the vaccination rate, including ringing down lists, using online bookings and social media to reach out if spare doses are available towards the end of the day, targeted outreach to hard to reach demographics.
‘Slowing down some parts in the hope others speed up is a false economy and it’s one with a high cost in terms of lives potentially saved and taxpayers borrowing to keep the companies going while the economy is closed.’
And experts have urged No10 to be more ambitious in the roll-out’s second phase in order to open up the economy.
Dr Simon Clarke said: ‘I would say it’s vital that, as long as the bottlenecks in other areas are not due to lack of vaccine doses, it would make sense to roll out vaccination to over-50s.
‘There is no sense in not vaccinating people in one area just because there at logistical problems in others. But it’s vital that people who may be higher up the priority list because of need are not denied a vaccine because it’s been sent elsewhere.’
The Institute of Economic Affairs think tank told MailOnline: ‘It appears the Government is being insufficiently ambitious in terms of the next phase of vaccine rollout. It appears the aim of offering a first dose to all over-50s by May is relatively modest.
‘The pandemic is costing £6billion per week by some estimates, GDP fell by 9.9 per cent in 2020, and the public finances in a dire state.
‘The unemployment rate is currently 5 per cent – but with the furlough scheme still in place we don’t know the full impact of Covid on our labour market.
‘Further, the third lockdown and prolonged uncertainty over the easing of restrictions may deliver a coup de grace to those businesses which were hanging on by a thread after the first two shutdowns.
‘The best strategy is to get foot to the floor on our vaccination programme – and we should begin to question, once the vulnerable groups have been received their jab, when might be the right time to gear up the private sector.’
It comes after it was claimed today that the third phase of the rollout after over-50s have been vaccinated is likely to target people by their ethnicity as well as their age.
Previously, teachers and other key workers were expected to be next in line behind over-50s.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation met today and is expected to recommend continuing the age-based approach because prioritising people based on jobs would be ‘too complicated’.
The JCVI will also urge ministers to prioritise some ethnic minority groups, who are at a disproportionate risk of dying from Covid.
Members are said to be particularly concerned about mortality rates among South Asians, who studies have shown are twice as likely to succumb to the virus as their white peers.
A source told the Daily Telegraph: ‘One of the main factors behind the success of the rollout so far has been the simplicity of the prioritisation rules because it has been based largely on age.
‘Once you make things more complicated, you run the risk of slowing things down.
‘You create more telephone calls for surgeries to make, while people are bashing on the door demanding a vaccine because they think it’s their turn.’
Official figures suggest that more than 2million Brits in the top four priority groups have still yet to be vaccinated, despite ministers saying they have all been offered a jab.
NHS England statistics, which go up to February 7, show Somerset had given at least one dose to 93.4 per cent of all of its over-70s